Two interesting and loosely connected things happened yesterday; Sony Online Entertainment finally launched the highly anticipated H1Z1 on Steam Early Access (already a top seller!) and on a separate, but somewhat related note, the producer of The War Z wrote a lengthy post about his experience and lessons learned launching and dealing with the controversy of their own similar game.
Like H1Z1, The War Z (now titled Infestation: Survivor Stories) can be called a "clone" of DayZ - they're both zombie-themed games trying to capture a chunk of that open-world, free-to-explore undead genre, and they're all releasing before they are finished. A key difference of course is that H1Z1 is backed by MMO juggernaut SOE whereas The War Z launched to an inordinate amount of controversy and was crafted and supported by a tiny team. The launch controversy though, may not actually be that different between the two...
What's interesting about the timing of these two events - the H1Z1 launch and The War Z tell-all - is how the latter involved a warning of how to handle monetization (specifically, charging real money for ammo) in games such of these and how the former, is already messing up on that front, despite promising they'd shape microtransactions with fan input.
See, the H1Z1 team initially assured fans that the game would not be pay-to-win in any way. SOE President John Smedley said as much months ago. Even four days ago, on the official H1Z1 livestream, it was reiterated that there would be no way for players to get ahead by purchasing weapons and ammunition with real money. See for yourself:
"You can't buy ammo, you can't buy guns, you can't get them out of a crate. There's zero way. You have to find them in a world."
The idea was that players could find rare ammo from zombies as well as in some houses and the police stations. As it turns out, that's somewhat false. Via microtransactions, players are able to call in airdrops that can include weapons and ammo, and the community is largely unhappy, taking to Reddit, social media and the official forums in a negative manner. Some are already even demanding refunds.
SOE’s Greg Henninger::
"We have made the decision to allow paid-for airdrops into the game with things like guns and other things being randomly selected as part of the airdrop."
SOE needed to respond and wrote the following for early adopters who want their money back after SOE changed their policies and made the game pay-to-win.
If you feel like the airdrops are an issue for you, you may immediately request a refund to email@example.com - this offer applies till Monday and it applies only to people that have purchased the game as of 10:30am Pacific today 1/16/2015 -
Please note that this is going through us, not Steam. Which means it's a little more work so please be patient with the actual refund (it may take a day or two).
H1Z1 is not free-to-play and it's only in early access, so it's questionable and disconcerting at first glance that SOE is pushing these types of gameplay-changing microtransactions. It's just bad all around, and it appears SOE wasn't following along with what the community (and other devs) have warned against. At the very least, they've failed at managing expectations. SOE going back on their word in this respect - despite claims to the contrary - only expounds the issue in the eyes of the unimpressed and makes what was once such an exciting launch, quite a bit less exciting.
On top of that, H1Z1 launched to server issues and some players have not been able to connect. In today's day and age, that's sadly somewhat expected, especially given that this particular release is an early access one. However, players are paying to play so SOE is working hard to get everything working. The servers are about to go down at the time of this publication so SOE can work on it some more.
While the game is offline, the planning team should reconsider what they're trying to do with the game. Turning fans against the product or brand on day one is bad, bad course of action. They're the most valuable commodity and the source of word-of-mouth marketing. Smedley took to Reddit again last night to defend the airdrops, but came off rather defensive while making some valid points and promising a few tweaks:
I'm going to weigh in here on this subject. We've been showing it clearly in all of the streams we have been doing. I made a point of personally doing it during last Friday's streams. We want them to be server events... so we make sure the whole server knows they're coming and I've personally been killed many times after I paid for them myself. So I fundamentally disagree with the argument. In terms of us not being honest about it - untrue to an extreme. Quoting an 8 month old reddit post after numerous streams and interviews where we've been quite public AND putting it front and center in our "What to expect document" which was right on the purchase page just makes this blatantly unfair IMO. (here's the link - https://www.h1z1.com/dev-updates/h1z1-what-you-can-expect-in-early-access) or you can just go back to the steam page. So if you think it's P2W don't buy it. Don't play it. But I have to say wait until you've personally tried them before making the call. We included airdrops in both the $20 and the $40 versions just so you could see for yourselves. But to clear up the misconceptions - 1) You cannot call in airdrops until the servers are 1/4 full. 2) You can't call in airdrops without generating a ton of zombie heat. 3) the airdrops are random in what they deliver. 4) you are not guaranteed to get a single thing out of the airdrop you called in. You could die trying and you're out the money. 5) We fly the plane in very slowly and loudly.. we also stream green smoke from it you can see from very far away. This is all I'm going to say on the subject. We've been straight about it. We've called attention to it publicly and it's something we've decided we want in the game. It makes it more fun. It can shake things up. Please don't judge based on knee jerk reactions. Try it. Or watch more streams with people doing it.
Now with all that being said - we're going to be making some big changes to them in the next day or so.
1) Dramatically widening the radius they come in - it's too small from what we're observing. 2) Making sure the chance for guns is a much lower chance so they are much more rare. 3) Upping the minimum number of people on a server to even allow air drops. It's set at 50 right now and we're going to at least double it. We are serious about these being server events and contested. 4) Making the plane fly even slower.
Still, the airdrops as they currently stand are microtransactions rewarding higher-paying players more and that inherently makes the playing field less even, and a case can be made for how they don't belong in the first place. It's also a design decision that affects the regular loot rates of equivalent goods no matter what way you look at it. At least SOE is making some changes quickly and openly discussing the issue.
Why not keep the microtransactions reserved for vanity and customization items or make airdrops earned strictly through in-game play? There are easy solutions here to make the game batter and more appealing.
Share your thoughts below on how SOE's handling the launch and microtransctions in H1Z1. What changes would you make?